Reality of retirement to hit legend Lowndes
FOR a bloke in retirement, Craig Lowndes will be as busy behind the wheel this year as he was when starring on the Supercar circuit for many years.
There was the Bathurst 12-hour international endurance race on February 3, a Bathurst 1000 title defence is on the agenda after his incredible heroics in October and another attack on the Sandown 500 is scheduled.
And how can he not be a highly competitive force when he teams with Shane van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup.
But it is not just changing gears in the Commodore which will ensure the name Craig Lowndes remains prominent.
He has long had an ambition to drive in the Le Mans 24-hour race in France and this year he finally gets his chance.
There are other "major" races which have captured his attention, only to be denied a drive because of Supercar commitments.
"Everyone kept asking what I was going to do with all the spare time," Lowndes said. "We are going to be busier this year because I'll be doing a lot of other things.
"There are other things I want to achieve and do outside Supercars and I'll be able to do that, but also stay close to Supercars through the broadcast, as well as have an ambassador role.
"I'm working with Triple Eight as an ambassador and there will be co-driving, test drives. It is about having more flexibility to do other races, like the Le Mans 24 hour. There are some major races I have wanted to do for such a long time.
"This year, the Darwin Supercars clashes with the Le Mans 24 hour so if I was still driving full time I would not be able to drive in it.
"Even though I had stepped down from full-time driving last year, I was already planning our next race."
After a phenomenal career which includes three Supercar championships, seven Bathurst victories and more than 100 wins, the absence of Lowndes from the grid for the Superloop Adelaide 500 will be bizarre.
It is the first race on the Supercars calendar and Lowndes, named ABC Sport Personality of the Year for 2018, is bracing for the impact of his retirement to hit home.
"It will be the first time for me to see the cars drive out of pit lane without being in one," Lowndes said.
"Talking to Mark Skaife and Russell Ingall as well as some others, that is when they say the reality will hit not being a full-time driver.
"I've been quite lucky in a lot of ways with longevity in the sport. I was able to drive with some great teams and race on a some great tracks.
"I can remember racing in Adelaide when it was the Formula One track. Adelaide is an iconic event and one of the most challenging races of the year.
"It's probably the hardest race of the year because of the temperature, coming out of Christmas and being rusty."
Lowndes believes Holden will enter this season nervous following Ford's decision to challenge for the championship with the Mustang.
It is a reversal of mindset, according to Lowndes, after Holden unveiled the ZB last year. And like Holden in 2018, Ford will be continually developing the car and uncovering speed out of the Mustang.
While defending champion Scott McLaughlin and van Gisbergen will again seriously contend, Lowndes said Dave Reynolds had proved to be fast and only needed to find more consistency. Lowndes mentioned Reynolds and his teammate Anton De Pasquale as being a formidable combination.
In Lowndes words, the Red Bull cars will be fast and Team Penske will be quick. He noted Tickford Racving were going through a building phase, while the restructuring of drivers will be interesting. Then there is the creation of Team 18 and Mark Winterbottom.
"When you have had such a long time with one manufacturer and then swap over, I know what that is like, it will be interesting to see how he comes to grips with the ZB," Lowndes said.
"The behaviour and feeling of the cars are different and he will take time to adjust. But he is a talented driver.
"We are all keen to see the performance of the Mustang and it will be interesting to see them around Adelaide. This year will be a little more of a lottery than we have seen."
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